My Opa – Johannes Hubertus Theodorus Gerardu

He did it. Even though his father did not want him to. He did it anyway. “What right does he have to have a say in my life?”, he thinks.” He hasn’t acted as a father since I was seven.” That was when his mother died. She was forty-three. As solace, his father turned to the bottle. It must have been too much to bear. How does a man support and raise seven children on his own? Yes, the bottle helped avoid this reality. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. Hubert essentially lost his mother, Maria Catharina van Engelshoven (21 Jan 1865, Maastricht, NL) and his father, Servatius Gerardu (29 Jan 1865, Maastricht, NL) that year. It was 1908.

Shortly after the death of his mother, Johannes Hubertus Theodorus Gerardu, better known as Hubert and his two brothers moved in with Servatius’s youngest brother Jos (Hubertus Johannes Josephus Gerardu, 25 Aug 1877). Jos and Elizabeth (Elizabeth van Eijsden, 18 Mar 1878) had five children of their own, so now there were eight. Imagine how loud and crazy it must have been! [Update: Only Hubert went to live with his uncle Jos; one of his younger brothers went to live with another uncle and one to an aunt.]

~1909 Class Photo
~1909 Class Photo in Maastricht, NL

Sadly, his sisters were not so lucky, as they went to an orphanage in Simpelveld, Netherlands. The order Zusters van het Arme Kind Jezus (Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus) ran this orphanage*. It housed mostly girls, and thankfully, this order of nuns did consider education for girls important. [Update: The oldest sister stayed with their father for a while, but then moved in with her aunt; the three younger sisters went to the orphanage.]

Growing up in a busy home, ultimately with fourteen children, did not leave room for much peace or money, so after 5th grade, Hubert quit school. At that time, children in the Netherlands were only required to finish primary school. He started working in a restaurant, first as a busboy, then later as a waiter. However, due to his limited education, advancement opportunities did not present themselves, and he became disgruntled.

From 1816 to the early twentieth century the Netherlands had a conscription system (draft) for military service. All young men were required to register, but selection to serve was random. However, the Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger (KNIL) or Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, a separate military force for the colonies, was desperate for European recruits. To a young man, with limited financial means, the KNIL offered financial gain and adventure, an appealing offer for someone like Hubert.  Go to the tropics, get away from his crazy, hectic, yet boring life, why not enlist? He was 19.

Johannes Hubertus Theodorus Gerardu
Johannes Hubertus Theodorus “Hubert” Gerardu (b. 15 Feb 1901)

As the story has it, his father, Servatius, would not sign the KNIL release form. He had hoped to prevent Hubert from enlisting, but as an estranged parent, he did not have much influence. I’m sure there were many reasons for this. Perhaps, it was because World War I had just ended and the idea of joining the military frightened him. We may never know. Nevertheless, for reasons still not clear to me, since he was 19 years old, the signature was important, and in the end, his uncle Jos signed the release.

Which brings us to 1921, January 27, 1921, to be exact. On this day, according to his military record, Hubert enlisted in the KNIL for a six-year commitment as a soldier in the colonies, both in and outside Europe. Thus if needed, he could have been required to serve in Europe. He registered as a citizen representing the city of Den Haag (ZH – South Holland) under no. G. 60 (Stamboek: Voorlopig verbonden als soladat voor zes jaren bij de koloniale troepen zowel in rekent in te gaan als buiten Europa, welke tijd Februari 1921. Is ingeschreven voor de militie voor de lichting van helt jaar 1921 voor de gemeente ‘s Gravenhage (ZH) onder no.G.60)Thus, on his twentieth birthday, February 15, 1921, he did it. Even though his father did not want him to. He did it anyway. This young Dutchman began a new chapter in his life. 

* The monastery the orphanage was associated with closed in 2012 and is opening as a museum, Museum de Schat van Simpelveld, in late 2018 –

View the Gerardu Family Tree on

Stories in this blog are created from historical information available to me at the time, which means there are some assumptions made to fill the gaps. If you have corrections, other information, or it ties to your stories, I would love to hear it, so please send me a message here.